Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

Pont Aven

City of Painters, fourteen mills, fifteen houses...

Bro Goz rear milinou, Baradoz year Arzou, "Old country of the millers, Paradise of the artists", Pont Aven invites you to discover the beauty of its landscapes, the richness of its history of love with art and the artists and in particular most famous of them, Paul Gauguin.

Why Pont-Aven?

"It is a small place and not expensive", noted Jobbe-Duval, a painter, it had everything that Gauguin expected and filled him with inspiration and wonder: there is still this amazing spectrum of light that attracts the artist. Now, Pont Aven is an open village and very busy. Flour milling and the maritime trade together with the development of hotels and guesthouses for the numerous visitors. (In 1900, there were 40 hotels, inns and Coffee houses). Coming from the cities, the majority of painters were very sensitive to the ambiance of this town small port. The hotels and guesthouses took great care of their guests (and the coffee houses were not the place for idealistic and aesthetic controversies). In this part of Brittany, picturesque is certainly the expression, but also poor and austere, Pont Aven is pleasure port; this area of Le Bois d'Amour expresses a freedom of tone and expression, which is directly opposite to the conformism of nearby villages. The smiling population, which, incidentally speak French... understood what these painters had come to see.

The Three Eras of Painting:

The painters discovered Brittany during the XIX' century and news of its exotic reputation spread rapidly throughout Europe. It was during this era that they came to Pont Aven. They come from London, from Philadelphia, from the Scandinavian countries and other places as well. For some reason the Pontavenistes referred to them all as: "Americans", even the French understood this reference. The costumes, the landscapes, the population and tranquillity inspired this first generation of painters and academics. Then came the articles in the Parisian press, and Pont Aven became a notorious haunt for painters.

The pictorial destiny, it is Gauguin that defines it most succinctly. He arrived in 1886, the pupil and friend of Pissarro as yet "the only impressionist". It was in 1888 that after meeting Emile Bernard and Paul Serusiez that the “Pont Aven School” was formed and with it came the advent of Synthetism (to synthesize or to combine so as to form a new, complex method).

“The Breton Ones in the Green Meadow (Les Bretonnes aux ombrelles)" by Emile Bernard and the original can be seen in the Orsay Museum in Paris and one on the right is "The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel)" by Paul Gauguin that is in the National Galleries of Scotland.The two pictures above are the first paintings in this style.

Gauguin later went to Tahiti! as part of a small group (about ten painters), better known as the Pont Aven School, but returned soon after. But the pictorial message is clear via "the Talisman" and “Nabis”. These successes changed the face of Pont Aven and the painters gradually relaxed. When the Great War started, the tourists replaced "the painters" at hostelries run by Marie-Jeanne Gloanec and Julia Guillou.

One begins to learn little by little the importance of Gauguin, and his return as a celebrity to Pont Aven. In the Twenties, the painters quietly returned to inspire the city once again. The inns were ready and able to accommodate them, particularly L’Hôtel de la Poste. New painters arrived and imitated the original group with some serious realism marked by the feeling of the slow passage of time; acted as a dilettante in the life of Pont Aven. For them, the whole art of living or the good hostesses plays a part. The painter Compard delivered a message to Julia Correlleau from all of them: "... how you are and this amazing place, Pont Aven enchants us thanks to you ".

The Second War blotted this chapter of the pictorial life. One had to wait until the Sixties before the artistic lifeblood started to flow again, and until the Eighties before a new population of painters arrived to hold sway in the community.

Pont Aven today

The village has a museum, studios for local artists, and 60 galleries; Pont Aven is resolute as an anchor for this vocation. At weekends, on holidays and in the autumn, the village gives visitors a lively experience and where painting is the centre of attraction.

"Open all the year" could one say.

The reason is, that it is the innovation of both previous generations and the present small group of painters that work all year in Pont Aven, and show their work in traditional galleries or in their own workshop-galleries.

As you walk along the flowered lanes, you will see reminders of days gone by, the old mills on both sides of the bridge; some having preserved their waterwheels and mechanisms from days long past. The port, that once accommodated the sailing barges loaded with spices or wine from Bordeaux is now the departure point for guided walking tours and relaxing cruises on the Aven and Belon rivers and see the old châteaux at Poulguin and Hénan. The charm of the estuary as the oceanic lights flash on the granite outcrops and the beautiful properties that overhang the river.

Another flower of Breton inheritance you need to see and taste is: Les Veritables Galettes de la Biscuiterie de PONT-AVEN. This is a complex situated at one end of a group of XIXe century houses, in Rue de Général Du Gaulle, where you can see many of these traditional products, such as Le kouign-amann, Le gateau Breton, Le Palet, and Le Far Breton with prunes, being made from a simple ancient recipes and using simple and natural ingredients: fresh eggs, whole wheat flour and superfine butter (without colourants or preservatives). You can also buy souvenirs and other products such as Breton clothing, porcelain, cider, and beer.

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